From show creator Samantha Stratton, the Netflix original series Spinning Out follows Kat Baker (Kaya Scodelario), an elite figure skater who’s trying to make the most of her second chance as a pair skater after a serious fall took her out of competition and allowed her to get way too far into her own head. Teamed up with talented bad boy pair skater Justin (Evan Roderick), Kat realizes that she has the ability to become a champion, but to do so, she’ll have to overcome her own personal demons.
During this 1-ono-1 phone interview with Collider, British actress Kaya Scodelario talked about why this project was so appealing to her, the importance of portraying mental illness correctly, the challenge of training and learning to skate, the extent of her bruises and blisters, the skating move she had the most trouble with, the inspiration she got from ice skater Johnny Weir (who is also in the series), the family dynamic, digging so deep into the Kat-Justin relationship, and her hopes for a possible second season. She also talked about why she wanted to be a part of the Agatha Christie adaptation The Pale Horse for BBC One, and her interest in producing and directing.
*Be aware that some spoilers are discussed*
Collider: I can’t imagine the work that must have gone into doing this show. It seems like it must have been completely insane.
KAYA SCODELARIO: Yeah, my bum still hurts from falling.
I would that imagine you probably have permanent bruises from doing something like this.
SCODELARIO: Oh, my god! There were bruises, I lost a toenail, and I had blisters. We started naming each other’s blisters, at one point, because they were so frequent. But it was still a lot of fun.
When this came your way, you had to know what a huge challenge this would be. What made you want to take on that kind of challenge?
SCODELARIO: For me, it was mostly the mental health side of the story. I’ve read a lot of scripts, over the years, depicting mental health, and some of them went from unflattering to downright rude and incorrect. Mental health is something that is personal to me, as it is to most people. But especially bipolar, someone very close to me lives with it. It’s something that I’ve always been really private about and wary of, but when I read the script and saw how honestly it was written and how well it was handled, I know how important it is for the next generation to talk about mental health. I’m really proud of how young people, nowadays, discuss it so openly, and I think it’s helping a lot people. So, I fell in love with the bribery of that. And then, I also really wanted to wear sparkly, great outfits because I don’t get to do that, in real life.
I mistakenly thought once that because I was a dancer, I had the grace that would allow me to just get out on a rink and be able to skate, but I was terribly mistaken and totally awful at it. As a result, I have a completely understanding of how difficult it is.
SCODELARIO: That’s where I started from. Before training, I was literally the person that stands along the side and holds the rail as they go around, while little kids pass them. That’s where I began.
Were there times, during the training, when you wondered if this was ever really going to work? Were there really difficult days where you thought, “What did I get myself into?”
SCODELARIO: Yeah, completely. When we got to Canada, we were doing four to six hours a day in the ice rink, training, and I was really struggling. I had no experience, and the rest of the cast all had experience, apart from Willow [Shields]. Even Evan [Roderick] could fucking ice skate. I actually have hyper-mobile joints in and my ankle gave out after our training and I collapsed because my body just wasn’t conditioned to train like that. It didn’t know how to do it. That was really scary. I felt like I’d failed at it, and I probably felt one-one hundredth of the feeling that athletes do when something goes wrong, where I completely gave up on myself and cried. I was like, “I can’t do this. It’s not working.” I had an incredible coach, Sarah Kawahara, who did I, Tonya and Blades of Glory. She sat me down and spoke to me and said, “We’re gonna do some off ice training, and then we’re gonna get back in the rink. We’re gonna get back in the saddle, and you can do this. It’s just practice, practice, practice. You’ll get there.” She really built my confidence up. By the end, I was able to go backwards, go really fast, and spin around. Obviously, it takes so many years of training to get to the level that these characters are. There’s no way you could get a bunch of actors that good in two months, to be able to do that. So, we have amazing doubles, and I’m getting much more confident on the ice now.
Someone else had been cast in this role, and then they left the project and you came in, which can shorten preparation time. Did you still have a good chunk of time to fully train and prepare to do this?
SCODELARIO: Oh, god, no. A good chunk of time would have been years. I got the call, and then two weeks later, I was in Canada. And then, we had three weeks of prep there. So, it was five weeks, in total, which is nothing. Willow, who was cast way before me, had been training for four months. Same with Evan. I definitely had to do everything twice as fast. They were really great and they were able to get me there. And I’ve carried on training by myself, in between, since we’ve stopped filming, so that if we do go again, I’ll feel slightly more comfortable.
SCODELARIO: It’s really ironic, but I couldn’t work out how to stop. Even towards the end, when I was getting really good and I was going fast, and I was doing spins and dance routines, I could never stop. The running joke was that, whenever a shot got cut, they’d have to wait for me to hit the wall because that’s how I’d stop. Johnny Weir was on set one day, and he took me aside and said, “Darling, I’m going to teach you how to stop.” I was like, “I can’t do it. For some reason, I just can’t.” And he spent about an hour at lunch time with, teaching me how to turn the blade in the correct direction, and where to put the pressure on your foot, in order to stop without falling on you face. He eventually managed to teach me.
I love that he was a part of this because I’ve always been a fan of his and the artistry in his skating. You can tell that he has a love for the sport, but there’s also an artistry to what he does that not everybody has. Was it just a blast to have him there, for something like this?
SCODELARIO: It was incredible. He’s just absolutely beautiful on the ice. Seeing him skate was so helpful for us, as actors, because that was our character, right there, seeing a breathing, real-life depiction of the passion, the love, and the serenity that these skaters feel. We shot a lot of skating stuff, and the crew would be cold and miserable and bored, but whenever Johnny went on the ice to do a scene, everyone would stop to watch. People would come out of the office to watch him skate. For those 30 seconds, you just fell in love with what he was doing. It was really inspiring to be around that.
We really get to see who Kat Baker is by watching the dynamic with her family, and seeing how her behavior mirrors her mother’s behavior. What was it like to explore that dynamic with January Jones and Willow Shields? Did you guys feel like your own little trio, much like your characters are?
SCODELARIO: Yeah, definitely. From day one, we all gravitated towards each other. The whole cast got on, really, really well, luckily. When I met Willow, I just fell in love with her, instantly, and really did see her as my little sister. I’m very protective of her. Even on set, I realized that, instinctively, I was asking her if she had enough water, if everyone treated her well, if she felt looked after, if she was okay, and if she felt safe. I wanted to, instinctively, protect her. And January is a woman that I really admire, for many, many reasons. We had lots of conversations and are very much on the same page, when it comes to feminism, motherhood, acting, and our experiences in the industry. It was really great to know that we could just sit down and talk. Me, Willow and January did hang out quite a lot. We had an Easter party that we threw at her house, with all of the kids, and we’d go to dinners. It really did feel as though the three of us had an extra special bond. I had an open trailer policy, where anyone could come to my trailer, at any time, and just chill. I wanted it to be a happy, safe place that you could play music and do whatever you want. Every day that we were all on set, January and Willow would be in my trailer with me and we’d be talking, discussing and laughing. It really helped having that, creatively, but also just for us, as a friendship. It was really special.
Because of who Kat is and what she goes through in this, it really accelerates the relationship that she has with Justin. Not only are they thrown on the ice together, but their personal relationship escalates really fast and you get to explore so much of it, in this season. What was it like to really get to dig so deep into that relationship, in such a short period of time?
SCODELARIO: You really do see an entire arc of a relationship, in one season, between them, but it made sense. We realized, when we started training together, that the whole idea of pairs is a marriage, essentially. You need to really know the other person, inside out. You’re training with them, all day long. You’re going through intense emotions with them, of failure, success, exhaustion, anger, exhilaration, and all of these things, so you’re immediately bonded. Evan and I felt that, as well, straight away. We were like, “Okay, you’re TV husband, and I’m TV wife now.” Our relationship was intense, as well. It felt like I’ve known him, my whole life, that we were in it together, and that we were gonna get through it together. Kat and Justin are much the same. They’re put into this crazy situation. They’ve known each other for a long time because they’ve trained at the same level, but when their worlds collide, and boy do they, it’s like wildfire. It’s just so fast. But that was really fun to get to play. There’s something about when you’re young and in love, probably for the first time, and feel like everything is so much more intense than it really is because you’re at that time in your life when you’re so engaged and so committed to this wonderful feeling, but you don’t realize everything is just dropping around you. It’s a super intense relationship, but I also feel like it’s very real.
By the end of the season, there’s a sense of where these characters could head next and you definitely feel like there are possibilities there. Have you had conversations about where this story could go, if you do a second season?
SCODELARIO: I’d love to see where it goes next. I have absolutely no idea. I went to follow them to the Olympics. I think that would be very cool.
Does it feel like there is still a lot to explore with her, and that there’s a lot that you could still dig into?
SCODELARIO: Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of family stuff that still can be explored. There’s a lot of my childhood that I’m really interested in, and that part of her backstory. Also her friendships, like with Jen, especially. I really want to know if they’re able to get back to where they were or not. And I’m sure she’s feeling quite protective of her now and wants to help her, even though she can’t. I think there are lots of places we could still go.
Spinning Out is your first TV series since Skins, which is where I first became aware of your work. Had you been actively looking for a character that you could really dig deep into and play for a longer period of time, or did you just want to play this character, and the medium didn’t matter?
SCODELARIO: It was a little bit of both. This is the first TV I’ve done since Skins, so it’s been almost 12 years. I really love movies. I love storytelling, in any shape or form, but there is something so special about spending so much time with your castmates and with your character, and getting to take them to so many different places and be in so many different situations. Without even realizing, I really did miss that. I’m so protective of Effy, the character I played in Skins. I feel like she’s such a creature inside of me that will always be there, and I haven’t really had that with any character since because you’re not with them for very long. If you’re in a big ensemble cast, obviously, the story is about that character, so you don’t get to show as much or do as much. And I really loved the idea of playing a character, being in every episode, spending 18 hours on set a day, living and breathing with them, and developing them over time. That’s what’s wonderful about American TV. You know that it can go on for so long and you can be part of the creative process, which is something that really excites me now. I want to produce and, eventually, I want to direct them. (Show creator) Sam [Stratton] was really great about letting me build Kat with her. There was just something that really excited me about that.
You also have The Pale Horse, which is an Agatha Christie adaptation, coming out next year. What was it about that story and character that appealed to you?
SCODELARIO: I really missed working in the UK and being on small, low-budget British film sets, where everyone puts the hours in, works really hard, and gets dirty. I loved the writer, Sarah Phelps. I’ve been a big fan of her, for a long time. She’d reached out to me a few times, over the years, to some other adaptations, but I’ve always been busy shooting other things. This one just came at the right time. It was a female director, and I really wanted to work with another woman. Leonora [Lonsdale] is incredible. I wanted to do something set in the ‘60s. It’s my favorite decade. And also, my late grandma would’ve loved it. So much of the stuff that I’ve done, she couldn’t watch, and I just had this image of her, at Christmastime, getting to watch me on the BBC in an Agatha Christie. There was something quite lovely and wonderful about that, and just simple and pure. I wanted to be a part of that.
Is there a current TV show that you watch that you’d love to do a guest spot on?
SCODELARIO: That’s a good question. I don’t really watch a lot of TV. I watch a lot of reality TV, which is embarrassing, but it’s the only thing that switches my brain off. I’d quite love to be a guest on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Spinning Out is available to stream at Netfli